History of Melba
Settled in the midst of sagebrush, Melba became an oasis in
the desert to the pioneers who had homesteaded south of there near the Snake River at the beginning of the 20th
Century. The only sign of life was Sagebrush Annie, the train that went through the area and crossed the river
to Murphy everyday. Folks on the north side of the river got their groceries and mail at the little town of Guffey
in Owyhee County on the other side of the river. They walked across the train bridge or rode over on Perry’s Ferry.
The nearest town was Nampa – nearly 20 miles away. So Melba would
cut off five miles for those first pioneers. Already, the McMillan Sheep Co. and farming in the Glendale area were
in need of a town.
Clayton C. Todd was passing through the area on his way to Alaska
to search for gold. He stopped over in Weiser to visit a friend, Mr. Fuller. Fuller told him about the new sale of
state land going on. So, in August of 1912, Mr. Todd purchased 160 acres of land at Rock Spur, a siding on the
railroad, and laid out a town. He named it after his little four-year-old daughter who was still in California with
her mother, Bessie B. Todd.
Stores, lumberyards, blacksmith shops and gas stations soon were
built. It was a boom town in the middle of the bustling farming community. McClain’s Hardware carried everything
from groceries to farm machinery. Pearl Brown said she was the first girl in town to wear britches because, working
for the hardware store, she was forced to climb the ladder that slid along the south wall of the store. There were
cubbyholes with nuts and bolts stored in them, clear to the ceiling.
Todd had his own store across the street – Todd Commercial Co.
Dewey Harris built the second store in the town. It still stands across from the post office – one of the few
remaining original buildings left in town.
Melba would always be known as a farming community. Right after
the First World War, it would become famous for raising highbred sweet corn seed. While some were raising carrot
seed, onion seed, alfalfa seed, as well as corn, for years it would be known as “The Seed Heart of America”.
A school was built immediately, followed by churches and then
fraternal organizations. The need to socialize was uppermost. It was working all day, every day, to grub a living
in this new land. But they were all in the same boat. It was church on Sunday, PTA at the school and meetings and
dances and box socials at the lodge halls. They were united in becoming a well-knit community. They were always
having fundraisers to pay for their buildings, buy fuel and survive.
In 1935 they brought electricity into the town. It would spread
into the farm area as lines were strung from the Snake River and the Swan Falls Dam electrical plant.
In 1949, following an epidemic of infantile paralysis around the
country, Melba was affected. Five of the Cram family contracted the disease. June Trauernicht, who lived north of
Melba, contracted the severe bulbar-type and spent the rest of her life sleeping in an iron lung. There were other
lighter cases, but the community was touched. They got together and formulated a plan to raise money for research.
January 1950 was the date set for the first Polio Auction. They would raise over $2,000 for the cause. After 57 years,
the auction, renamed The Melba Community Auction, brings in about $30,000 each year. No longer the polio auction,
it serves children's organizations, such as Little League, Boys’ and Girls’ State and contributes to several research
organizations, such as cancer, heart and other diseases. They contribute to homes for unwed mothers, abuse shelters
and finally, they have a reserve amount for local emergencies. They have helped families who have suffered loss from
fire or illnesses.
In 1963 the community gathered to celebrate the 100 years since
Idaho had become a territory. There were parades with everything old-time clothes and vehicles and potluck dinners.
From that evolved the Olde Tyme Fourth of July which brings people from all over the valley to eat, enjoy programs,
a tractor pull, a huge parade and a spectacular fireworks display at sundown.
The town has had a resurgence of growth. There are two new
subdivisions and the prospect of more to come. The defunct grocery store is enjoying a new owner with a deli counter,
lunch counter and a good selection of groceries. The school district, now an accumulation of all the little country
schools around the valley that enjoyed their separate communities in the “horse and buggy” days, are united into a
district with approximately 700 kids. There is a magnificent school building with two gymnasiums and a commons area
which is shared with the community for the Community Auction, funerals and other notable functions.
It is still a farming community, although many of the citizens
commute to Nampa, Boise and other places to work. The lodges are losing their identity with the offer of movie
theaters, arenas and stadiums in the bigger towns. There is a medical center to take care of the needs of the locals.
Melba is still a unique place to live. The people enjoy their
connection with each other. Activities, such as the annual auction and the Fourth of July celebration, bring hundreds
to the community to enjoy each other’s company. Even though Melba is on the road to nowhere, it is where a lot of
people want to be – at the end of the road.